THE BLOG

If Grieving Parents Aren't Worthy Of Help, Who Is?

06/12/2016 17:27 GMT | Updated 07/12/2017 10:12 GMT

"When the undertaker was explaining to me what the plans for my little boy's funeral were, I just wanted to hold my little boy, not bury him. I remember the day the bill arrived and that fear in my stomach as to how I would pay it."

These were the words of Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, in an emotional plea for better financial support for grieving parents. The Labour Party has called for the government to cover all local authority fees for the burial or cremation in the case of a child's funeral.

Estimations suggest that to do so would cost the government as little as £10 million a year. Hardly peanuts to you or I, but, in Jeremy Corbyn's words, "a very small proportion of government expenditure". That £10 million would cover funeral fees for the 5,000 babies and children that die every year in the UK.

To put that in perspective, the government currently spends £14 million on boarding school fees for diplomats' children. By some estimates, the government wasted £100 million on failed IT projects. MPs' expenses now total over £100 million every year, and actually rose substantially after the expenses scandal. I could go on.

Unfortunately, the government's answer to calls for more financial support was dismissive at best. At PMQs, Theresa May waved away questions about funding children's funerals by referring to the Social Fund Funeral Payment scheme - a scheme which has been heavily criticised by MPs in recent months for its inadequacy.

Not only is the Social Fund application process notoriously complex, with a plethora of eligibility criteria that filters out almost everybody, the delays in processing mean that many families don't know if they are eligible for financial support before the funeral takes place. That means paying for the funeral in advance - sometimes with credit cards or payday loans - in the vague hope that the government might, just maybe, reimburse the costs.

On top of the uncertainty, applying for the Social Fund payment requires extensive paperwork to determine eligibility. Carolyn Harris summed it up perfectly: "I say to the Prime Minister that at the darkest moment of a parent's life, I could not even fill a kettle, let alone fill in a 35-page application form."

It's a fact not as widely known as it should be that many funeral directors offer their services either heavily discounted or completely free of charge to parents mourning the death of a child. They recognise these parents deserve compassion, understanding and - most importantly - practical support.

Losing a child is one of the most painful, life-altering experiences anyone can endure. Surely, if anyone deserves to have an extra financial burden lifted, it is these parents? If we want to live in a society that helps the most vulnerable, that holds out a hand to those who are struggling to go on, how can we ever justify charging parents the cost of burying their child?